Cal men’s swim travels south to face CSU, USC.

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On Cal men’s swimming and diving team’s trip down into Southern California territory, the Bears will face CSU Bakersfield on Thursday before reaching USC on Friday.

CSU Bakersfield, a solid mid-major D1 team, will give No. 2 Cal an opportunity to compete after an almost two-week hiatus, giving them a competition to shake off some rust right before Friday’s dual-meet against USC. The Roadrunners are coming off victories against UC Santa Cruz and Fresno Pacific in a tri-meet.

After an impressive performance at both the Pac-12 Championships and NCAA Championships last year, No. 14 USC is in an interesting situation this year. The Trojans lost Cristian Quintero to graduation while Santo Condorelli and Dylan Carter redshirted this year to train for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. To top it all off, USC’s top three freshmen recruits and sophomore Ralf Tribuntsov didn’t compete last semester.

For freshmen Patrick Mulcare, Alexander Valente and Carsten Vissering, Friday’s meet against the Bears will be only their second dual-meet of their collegiate careers. The trio made their debuts against No. 17 Wisconsin just over three weeks ago and swam well. Mulcare, a versatile freshman, won the 400-yard individual medley — one of swimming’s most grueling events — and placed second in the 200-yard freestyle, 1:37.97, just three-tenths behind star junior Reed Malone. Valente, an elite butterflyer, won the 100-yard butterfly, 48.98. Valente’s best time out of high school will threaten Texas’ butterfly hegemony during the post-season. Vissering, the top non-Andrew Seliskar freshman breastroker, won the 100-yard breaststroke, 54.75. With fellow freshman Kyle Grissom, the trio made up the second-place, all-freshman 200-yard medley relay. Each of their splits are promising as the Trojans look ahead at the championships. The quartet will be a threatening squad for Cal to deal with.

Beyond the freshmen, USC has a squad full of talented swimmers. Malone, who represented Team USA at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, is one of the top middle-distance freestylers in the nation. The Bears don’t have a swimmer with a best time in the 500-yard freestyle that is close to that of Malone. While Malone’s best time in the 200-yard freestyle is right on par with some of Cal’s swimmers such as junior Long Gutierrez, his split on the 800-yard freestyle relay at the NCAA Championships last year, 1:31.59, is almost out of this world.

Fellow junior Michael Domagala also competed in Kazan last summer. Representing Team Poland, Domagala swam on the 800-meter freestyle relay. As an individual, he has top-five times among USC swimmers in 4 separate events this year. Domagala specializes in the butterfly events, the 200-yard individual medley and the 200-yard freestyle and is an important piece to USC because he adds depth that will help USC’s hunt for a second-straight Pac-12 Championship title.

While the Bears are the second-ranked team in the nation, they will have a lot on their plate this weekend. The Trojans are a team with plenty of front-end talent to match Cal and has a lot of depth to give the Bears one of their toughest dual-meets of the year.

Chris Zheng covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected]